Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and member of the House Financial Services Committee, was among the invited speakers at Tuesday’s Bloggers Briefing held weekly at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Instead of discussing his efforts in his Congressional District, Rep. McCotter asked bloggers to share the opinions and concerns of Americans they talk to, and thus kicked off a 30-minute Q and A at the briefing.
Q: In terms of what’s coming up on the Hill, what do you anticipate happening in the Senate with the financial regulatory reform legislation? Are Republicans going to hold firm or are they going to cave in?
McCotter: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) (pdf) was able to get all 41 members of the Republican Senate Conference to agree to oppose Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) proposed financial regulatory reform bill that includes a $50 billion bailout fund for Wall Street firms. You’ve seen Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) say he’s going to defy the administration and keep the $50 billion in and use it to barter to try to get Republican votes.
I agree with economist Larry Lindsey’s (pdf) analysis of the bill in that it’s not just about the $50 billion bank tax for a revolving fund for bailouts. There’s also empowerment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and the Treasury Department to keep these entities afloat, and there’s a chance for the Fed to come in and deem whatever it wants as appropriate collateral to keep these institutions afloat.
The Republican position is that if there’s nothing too big to fail, then it should wind up in bankruptcy, and American taxpayers should not be on the hook for it.
The only thing in America that’s too big to fail is her sovereign people. And I think that we have to get back to that concept, and I think the House Republicans will hold firm on this, and I think that with all indications the Senate will too.
Q: Approval numbers for Republicans are still low, in part, because Conservatives don’t trust Republicans to limit big government and restore fiscal responsibility because they weren’t successful at it the last time they were in the majority. What can House Republicans do, and should they do, to restore the faith of Conservatives around the country that if they get put back into the majority, they will actually govern as Conservatives?
McCotter: The current Republican minority is a different minority because of the losses that we had. A lot of the people who made decisions in the past are no longer there to make those decisions. The late Republican majority became rather corporatist and insular; to a large extent, they forgot who they worked for. Fundamentally, an elected official in the United States does not represent Washington to their constituents, they represent their constituents to Washington.
The last majority had set up a system whereby they thought they could represent Washington to their constituents. They ran out of, I believe, intellectual capital and vision, and eventually relied on earmarks and spending. But in defense of the late Republican majority, I still point to two things we did right (I got there at the tail end): we never raised your taxes; and we kept you safe from America’s enemies. Now there were mistakes that were made and there were problems—there was a loss of understanding of who we worked for—but let’s not forget some of the things that we did do right.
In case Republicans and Conservatives are worried, the one question we do hear all across the country is: “How do we know we can trust you again?” We have to prove it every day on our voting records and on standing up for principles. We’ve done it on stimulus, we largely did it on cap-and-tax, we clearly did it on health care, and we’re going to continue to do it on issues like financial reform and others.
But let’s not forget that the beauty of the American system is that it is always renewed by the American electorate. The shape of the next Republican majority can’t be predicted because it has yet to emerge. It will be selected in primaries across the country; it will be determined in general elections throughout the country. And the infusion of new idealism and ideas is going to make it an entirely different majority than the one we saw in the past. I think that when we look at the candidates across the country that are running, there should be great optimism as to what type of Republican majority you will get.
Q: There seems to be a backlash in the media against grassroots activism. Do you think there is a concerted effort to marginalize the Tea Party movement or portray it as dangerous?
McCotter: I’ve never quite seen how peaceably assembling citizens, who are trying to petition government for the redress of grievances, can be so smeared by the actual government itself and their abettors in the media. This is crazy. If you reverse it, remember the anti-war movement against Iraq, by and large Republicans were very respectful of their right to petition government—even though we didn’t like their position—and we respected their right to put their views forward.
Conservatives didn’t try to infiltrate those who were part of the ant-war movement, or call them un-American. We were very well respectful of those sovereign citizens who disagreed with us. Now you flash forward to what’s happening today, and it’s open season on citizens who are Conservative—trying to bring forward their views.
There are two reasons for this: the first is obvious, because Conservatives fundamentally disagree with the left-wing view of how the country should be run, which is being implemented by the Obama administration and the Democratic majority. But there’s something else more fundamental to it, this is why you saw some start to talk about sedition [in reference to the Tea Party movement], the new left controlled the narrative of popular dissent.
Liberals, the baby boomers, were the ones who took to the street to move the country forward and get out of Vietnam—this is what happens from the left, they go out and popularly protest. That’s theirs in their mind, they own that. So when they see Conservatives doing the same thing to make their voices heard, they [Liberals] are shocked by it; they have no prism by which to process what’s happening in the Tea Party movement, so they attack it. They marginalize the Tea Party movement so their views aren’t heard. But they also do that to protect their own narrative that only they do anything in public protest that’s helpful to the country. You’re dealing with psychological and political dimensions.
The Tea Party has to just persevere because it’s representative of far more Americans’ views than the main stream media (MSM) or the political class of Democrats.
Democrats believed their own press clippings. They believed the country had fundamentally shifted to the center-left—the fundamental realignment. The Country was done with Reaganism, and was done with Conservativism, and George W. Bush had screwed everything up, and now we were going to be a center-left country. The Democrats started to govern from the left and were shocked by Americans’ reaction.
In 2008 I don’t think any Democrat knocked on senior citizens’ doors to tell them they planned to cut Medicare by half a trillion dollars over 10 years; did anybody say they were going to force people to buy government health care insurance; did they say they were going to spend a trillion on a government stimulus plan; did they explain cap-and-tax to the people they were going to get elected by? So when Americans’ saw these things, they were repulsed by it.
The recent Rasmussen poll and Pew Research Center survey show that the way Democrats have governed from the ideological left, foisting their positions on an unwilling American public (health care being a prime example) that [in Rasmussen] more than 67 percent of Americans believe that the government is a special interest that looks out for itself instead of its citizens; in Pew, 78 percent of Americans don’t trust the government all or part of the time; and, also in Rasmussen, only 24 percent believe they are being governed to their consent. Those are very dangerous numbers in a representative democracy.
Fortunately, I think the popular expression of the Tea Party and others, are going to rectify that by reinvigorating their representative institutions with new people.
But I think that you should expect to be continually attacked—not because you’re marginalized, but because you represent the main stream of American political thinking. If you’re political, and you come from the extreme position, you have to marginalize mainstream thought.
Again, this is unprecedented to me, in the sense that I can’t remember when government officials and their allies in the media have so openly and viciously attacked people who haven’t done anything wrong. The worse the attacks get, the more progress you are making in trying to help restore representative government and sanity.
Q:Can you talk about the message the White House has sent to some of our strongest allies, whether it’s Poland or the United Kingdom, who’ve stood by the U.S. and whom we’ve had good partnerships with for many years, but are now feeling slighted by some of the actions Obama’s taking?
McCotter: In terms of where we are strategically, with all of the domestic challenges that we face, we cannot take our eye off the ball of what’s happening to America’s national security at this period in time. We are a nation both in recession and in war. Men and women across the globe and fellow citizens are sacrificing and suffering to advance the cause of American security and advance the cause of human liberty.
What we see from the Republican end, from a Reaganite perspective, is, I think America’s national security is not as strong as it needs to be with the challenges we face. I think that appeasing and placating a romanticist Russia that wants to subjugate its neighbors near abroad and intimidate its neighbors far abroad is not the proper strategy to take. We should not have to induce the Russians to support sanctions against an Iranian regime going nuclear, especially when they’re right next door. It would seem to be the height of sanity to support those sanctions if you happen to live in Moscow.
We also have to take a look at the mercantilist policies and the human rights violations and the strategic advances of the People’s Republic of China.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia, the ‘–stans’ [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan] and Iran as observer nation, holds joint military exercises and cooperates on planning and economics.
When you watch Iran sanctions discussions, when you hear about Russia and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and when you hear about our policies toward China, remember, they are coordinating their activities toward the U.S.; but the U.S. has no coordinated policy toward them. The Gates memo showed that the U.S. doesn’t have a policy that will prevent Iran from going nuclear.
“The treaty, called New START, imposes new limits on ready-to-use, long-range nuclear weapons and pledges to reduce the two biggest nuclear arsenals on the globe. Both countries will be limited to 1,550 ready-to-use, long-range nuclear weapons in addition to the other parts of their nuclear stockpile.”
The U.S. cannot retreat from Europe and leave the Russians to intimidate the countries along its border or within Eastern Europe. The U.S. cannot allow the Chinese Communist regime to work hand-and-glove with the Russians, North Koreans and Iranians to continue to see the nuclear proliferation and weaponization of the capacities that Iran might have. The U.S. has to have a coordinated policy toward all of those countries, including Venezuela (Chavez) and Cuba (the Castro brothers). Because if we don’t, we’re going to be right back where we were in the ’70s—a nation in retreat as the U.S.’s aggressive enemies advance.
I’ve seen no indication that this administration grasps the reality of the dangers that face this country from many of these nations, both in the short and the long term.
If you have the time, I recommend that you read the book, Munich 1938 by David Faber, which tracks how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin and the appeasers in the United Kingdom thought they could reach a long-term settlement with Nazi Germany. Czechoslovakia paid the price, Austria paid the price, and eventually Poland and the world paid the price.
If you watch the rhetoric and actions that come out of this government, we are following the same road. We are capitulating to the Russians and Chinese, and are trying to strike a long-term settlement with the Iranian regime.
When people your age were shot in the streets of Tehran, Iran, for wanting to be free, I don’t think we got the response from this government that we needed to show our solidarity with those people. They have the same God-given right to freedom that you do. Where was the outrage in the U.S.? Where was our pledge of support? But we didn’t want to upset the regime. That’s absolutely backwards.
Ronald Reagan was criticized and castigated in the U.S. and all over the globe for calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” but he wasn’t castigated in the Gulag. Natan Sharansky said that he, and those who were in the Siberian Gulag with him, knew that it was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, because someone had told the truth about what it was. It was the beginning of a freedom revolution; it was the beginning of the Reagan Revolution.
That’s the United States that I was born to. That’s the United States many people have come to have naturalized citizenship in. The U.S. is a beacon of liberty and hope to the world’s oppressed; it does not mute its criticism of regimes that shoot women in the streets for wanting to be free. The U.S. stands with the oppressed and supports them. As a Republican that concept is ingrained in my head, because the first Republican told us that “by expanding liberty to the enslaved, we assure freedom for ourselves.” That is no less true today than it’s ever been.
If the United States, for whatever realistic assessments of the threats to the United States, decides to retreat in the face of regimes that kill their own people, we will be inviting nothing but further trouble for ourselves.
Again, I say that as we are in a time of war where America is busy keeping her word to the people of Iraq, who we liberated from an evil dictator; where we are trying to help the people of Afghanistan have the right to be free when we liberated them from an evil regime known as the Taliban. U.S. foreign policy is about the expansion of liberty wherever we can, and prudently apply our ability to advance it. If we are not advancing, it is retreating.
Right now, in the overall context of where we stand, can you tell me were freedom is advancing? Can you tell me where the regimes that are authoritarian or totalitarian are not advancing? We have to change that; there’s too much at stake.
As bad as the domestic agenda is from this administration, statutes can be repealed, statutes can be improved. If you make a foreign policy mistake, at the magnitude of what Carter did in Iran, that price is not so easily paid and it lasts a long time.
Q: In the original Contract with America, there was a sense that Congress was incapable of reforming itself, and there needed to be some constitutional restraints on the growth of government. There was support for a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget; there was support for a three-fifths rule to raise taxes, which was promptly repealed by the Democrats. What do you think of the concept that the next generation of reform needs to be constitutional restraints on the growth of government?
McCotter: I think that you have to have a constitutional balanced budget amendment. I think that the public is increasingly ready for it.
In the past the argument always was: “Well, the public really doesn’t want it—they prefer to have the spending.” I think that’s changed 180 degrees now when you look at all the polling, or you just listen to your constituents. In the short run what you have to do is you have to refuse to increase the debt ceiling; that will serve to force hard decisions in Congress right off the bat.
But in the long term you need to put the power of sovereign people over the appropriators and the members of Congress in terms of their spending. Otherwise you will continue to see what we’re seeing.
There are other things on the table that can be utilized. I still think that Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) legislative line item veto is critical; and I do think it will pass constitutional muster, because the decisions come back to the Congress for an up-or-down vote.
There are things we can do in the short run. Obviously, I think our earmark moratorium is very helpful—to show some renewed commitment to fiscal integrity. But over the long run you need a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
The one question we get, other than “Why is everything so crazy?” Is “What can we do?”
Americans want to do more. Many people feel they are shut out because of the MSM, or because it’s such a monumental task that they don’t know where to begin.
There’s a million ways to get your message out. The new media is your friend.
The technological and communications revolution is your friend to get Conservative, Republican principals out before the electorate.
You have more ability right now than at any time in history to help shape the destiny of the country, to help shape the politics of your community. …
What we need to match this consumer-driven economy is a citizen-driven government—and it will happen.
The stimulus was an attempt to continue the model of big government as a vertical entity that makes all of your decisions for you—so was health care, so was cap-and-tax, and it’s not going to be sustainable. It’s going to be a long haul, but it’s going to get done.
You are going to have a citizen-driven government again and 2010 is going to be the first start in that process.
And when the America’s sovereign people have a consumer-driven economy with a citizen-driven government, we are going to remain right where we’ve always been, and do what we’re always supposed to do: We are going to inspire the world with what free people can achieve.